Mount Unumhum

I try to stay away from controversial topics here, but I do have views on most issues. In today’s San Jose Mercury columnist Scott Herhold criticized the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) for allowing the abandoned air force radar station on Mount Umunhum to deteriorate. I disagree with his view. Here’s the email I sent to him:


The deteriorating pile of stained concrete that passes for a building atop Mt. Um is a turd that mars the southern skyline. It was not built for beauty, but for utility. It always was ugly and now it’s even uglier. The blame for the neglect should not be put on the open space district, but on the military which had ownership during the deterioration. Neither organization has as its main function preservation of history. I put it in the same category as the offshore oil platforms that uglify the shores of this country and many others. I see no historical value in the building; if it ever had any it was lost long ago. I grew up in San Jose seeing the building up there throughout my childhood, and well remember the Cold War, an era better forgotten. I’m a nature lover, not a history lover. I don’t get up onto that mountain often, but I have gone there several times in the last few years and I’m always depressed at seeing that building despoiling the countryside. The open space district was given a specific responsibility by the voters and that is to acquire and maintain open space, to prevent the local natural habitat from being gobbled up and parceled out for McMansions. Wasting its limited resources on the few who like to be reminded of the Cold War prevents it from doing what it is required to do both legally and ethically. How many acres of ranch land will not be acquired because the money will be spent on restoration or “preservation” (if that word can be applied to something already long past a preservable state)? I say let the district do what it was formed to do and let those who like looking at old junk piles visit their local salvage yard to see “history.”

He replied with a polite “thanks for your thoughts. scott”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not opposed to all preservationism. I approve of the attempts to preserve the dirigible hangar on Moffett Field, for example, but there are big differences between that and Mt. Um. That effort is being led by Google and by an organization of donors, not taxpayers. The NASA budget that originally had funding for restoration was cut to eliminate that provision. Second, the hangar, although also built very much for a utilitarian purpose like the radar station, is architecturally beautiful, at least in my opinion. That opinion is shared by many as any Internet search will prove, whereas I’ve never heard anyone say they thought the crumbling concrete block on Mt. Um was beautiful. Nostalgic, maybe, but not beautiful. Furthermore, the MROSD is a very small agency funded by local taxpayers for a very specific purpose. It has the words “open space” in it for a reason. It is not a park district. Parks have multiple purposes, including providing recreational and educational facilities. The district is statutorily bound to foster open space, essentially to ensure that there are no buildings replacing the natural beauty. It does provide trails and occasionally allows benches to be placed at scenic spots, but its mandate prevents it from putting in campsites, picnic tables, visitor centers and the like. A small parking lot and maybe a restroom at the lot is about as much development as they allow. It is unfair to the district to pressure it to do what is really anathema to its very purpose. If the taxpayers wanted that cinder block up there kept, they should have petitioned the local park district or county supervisors to buy it, not the MROSD.